Bansko, Bulgaria, Visited July 2021

The resort town of Bansko is the ideal base for hiking into the Pirin mountains. A bus service brings you up to the Virhren hut at 1950 m.










The town itself is also interesting to visit, with fantastic views of Pirin all over, the old town, the church, and the many traditional or not so traditional cafés and restaurants.

Nearby are the interesting villages of Banya and Dobrinishte, that are only 6 to 7 km away and can be reached by bus and or train.  There are multiple spa centre with mineral water for swimming and relaxing after walking.  In winter skiing is all over Bansko and these towns receive tired skiers too ! From ski gear to bathing suit (outdoors , water is hot !) in full winter, just amazing.

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Banderishki Lakes

Banderishki lakes, Pirin NP, Bulgaria, visited July 2021.


Starting from the Vihren hut near Bansko , one can visit many beautiful lakes in the Banderishki circus.  Very easily accessible are the Okoto (Eye) , Ribnoto (Fish), Muratovo and Shabeshko (frog) , Dylgo (Long) lakes.  One can make a full circle including all or some of these lakes depending on time and level of your fitness…


20210709_105621Great views of mountains all around and an opportunity to see some wildlife like mountain goat, frogs, birds, butterflies,…

Ideal picknick and relaxation spots, a bit cool for swimming but it can be done as we could witness.

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Mt. Muratov , Pirin NP , Bulgaria, visited July 2021


Mt. Muratov (2669 m) is easily reached from the Vihren hut, after a walk to the splendid muratovo lake and a hike up the Banderishta porta to reach the summit of Muratov .

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Mt. Vihren, Pirin mountains, Bulgaria, visited July 2021.

Mt. Vihren (2914 m) is the highest mountain in Pirin National Park in Bulgaria, and the third highest peak of the balkans, after Mt. Mussala (close in Rila NP) and Mt. Olympus (Greece)


The peak is very accessible and easy to climb from the Vihren hut using the classical south face route (aka the Royal route).  Other routes exist that are more challenging , via North face or narrow rims (like Premkata and Koncheta)…

The peak is entirely Marble rock.


The picture shows the North face as seen from the “big cauldron”.


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Mt. Kailash (Kailas)

Mt. Kailash (6714 m) is one of the most sacred places of Tibet.  It is a holy place for Buddhists, Hindus and Jains.  To Tibetans it means ‘the pillar of heaven’, to Hindus it is the place where Shiva resides.  All of the pilgrims, which come still nowadays in great numbers, make a ‘kora’ (a walk around the mountain), which has the auspicious effect of ‘cleansing the sins of a lifetime’ (13 times or even 108 times are even more auspicious…).  Along the kora are several monasteries, caves, buddha footprints, chörtens, sky burial sites, ‘sin-testing stones’, etc… The highest point is Drölma-la (5630m), a pass with an abundance of prayer flags.   Pilgrims often do the kora in one (very long) day – a Westerner will need at least three days. Staying overnight in one of the ‘guesthouses’ attached to the monasteries is possible, although a lot of people do camp.  It is forbidden to climb the mountain, something which has not been done till now. Trekking around the mountain is possible from mid-May till mid-October.

Mt. Kailash,  North Face
On the Kailash kora...


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Mt. Emei (Emei-shan)

Emei means in Chinese ‘the eyebrows of Buddha’.  One says you can see the ‘halo of Buddha’ in the clouds when standing on the top and the light is dim enough.  Along the way to the summit (many many steep stairs) there are macaw monkeys, which will grab everything and can be quite agressive.  There are different monasteries, temples, sacred caves, … and tea houses(!) on the mountain – you can stay overnight in a monastery which is an authentic experience.  On the ‘golden summit‘ (3077 m) is a monastery and many ropes with padlocks attached by visitors. You can go up by bus most of the mountain and then continue to the top by cable car.  If you want to go all the way on foot, count on one long day (13 hours or more) starting from Baoguo Temple (551 m) near Emei-town.  Another alternative is to have yourself carried all the way up in a bamboo chair (yes, some people really do this !).

Mt. Emei On the summit of Emei-shan
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LAS VEGAS, SEPTEMBER 1995 - ’You have to go to Vegas once in a lifetime’, some say.  I agree, but once is enough.  This city is just unbelievable, but is it really a city ? It seemed more like a theme park to me, but I must admit, I enjoyed being carried from the one astonishing fact to the other.  We came out of the desert, a whole day driving without seeing anyone, then there was suddenly the Hoover dam, and when we arrived into Las Vegas, there were traffic jams ! A big contrast, and this was only the beginning.
Hoover dam


‘When in Vegas, don’t sleep at night’, another saying.  I was determined to try it out.  I went from casino to casino, did some gambling (what else would you do ?) and had some free drinks.  It was all amazing, there were pyramids and a sphinx, there was Ceasars Palace, a vulcano, … and everything was connected to everything – I often wondered if I would be able to find an exit somewhere… Afterwards, I’ve learnt that exits are on purpose ‘as invisible as possible’, people have to stay in and gamble.  It is true that the city has some special attraction at night – neon rules over here.  In fact an exiting atmosphere is created, and after a while it becomes hard to resist the slot machines or video poker or blackjack.  The first night, I even won some money (the second, I lost it all very quickly).  When it was nearly morning I decided to go to the hotel, but I got a bit lost (and had a last free drink too much).  I took a cab and the hotel was somewhat further than I had imagined before.  Next problem was I didn’t remember my room number… now I was in trouble.  Security didn’t trust the situation, and I had a hard time explaining my friends were already there (and asleep) – finally I got into my room escorted by a security guard.

Everything is for sale in Vegas

All you can eat

After sleeping in the day after, it was time to go for lunch.  I took the free shuttle bus this time, to one of the many restaurants inside the casinos.  I went to a place where there were circus artists performing while you were having lunch.  The food was cheap and often on a ‘as many as you can eat’ basis.  This has of course again the purpose of driving people into gambling; they can save on the food, so they have more money left for gambling.

Besides gambling, I have done some walking into some of the areas aside from the strip. I remember it was very hot (at least to me it was), and I was always happy to reach a casino, because I could drink something there and it was airconditioned.  I guess the high temperatures over there are also ‘on purpose’.

And the other stuff

I also went on a city tour in a real limousine, champagne included.
I didn’t get married and I didn’t skydive disguised as Elvis.

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SAN FRANCISCO, AUGUST 1995 - In the days I spent in San Francisco, several of my travel dreams came true, like walking on the golden gate bridge, riding on the cable cars and going to Alcatraz.  At the same time these were the icons that appeared in so many American movies I had seen at home.  And it all seemed to be true in reality !  But I also discovered other places that were before unknown to me, and tasted the multicultural aspects of this exiting city.  This city ranks high on my list of most beautiful cities in the world. 

The hills and the bridge

First thing that struck me in the city : the streets are steep, very steep ! This is because of the 49 hills SF is built on, and some have famous names like Pacific Heights, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, … Another famous place is Twin Peaks, where the view of the city is fabulous.  I remember the big antennas up there, and when some years later I took a flight from SF, they were visible above the mist that is so typical for the city.
Next stop, the Golden Gate bridge – I used a local bus, and the driver said we were unlucky : there was no mist today.  I walked over the bridge, which is a nice way to realise what a masterpiece of engineering this bridge is – you may not be afraid of hights and don’t lose your keys here.  Near to the bridge, there is the golden gate park, with a lake, a Dutch windmill (!) and a Japanese garden, where I had some Japanese tea.  At night, I sailed a catamaran under the bridge.  The city lights were bright and beautiful, and made it a romantic setting…

The city seen from the bay
China Town

China Town

Other highlights I visited were the piers, where a nautical festival took place at that time, and several other  buildings of interest, like the Transamerica Pyramid and Coit Tower.  And China Town.  I took a local bus, and it seemed like in China : lots of Chinese getting on the bus, carrying a lot of stuff, the bus driver shouting to calm them down,… I wandered through the streets, and for a while I was in China.  I went for lunch to a local restaurant, which was full of Chinese people. I remember I had trouble with the chopsticks at that time, and that the woman next to me told me in Chinese how to handle them.

And then for something completely different : Alcatraz.  This is of course a very touristic place now, but somehow it gives you a good impression of how life would have been there when it was still a prison. And again, some movies came true…

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LOS ANGELES, AUGUST 1995 - It was my first visit to the North-American continent, and my first encounter with American city life.  While the plane was making it’s descent towards LAX airport, I could see plenty of low-rise houses, the suburbs of this enormous city.  I was somewhat disappointed not to see high-rise buildings – I had to wait till the next morning for that.  I went to the hotel and met some of my fellow travellers before trying to sleep through my jetlag…- which worked wonderfully, against all expectations.  The next morning, I took some quick breakfast (muffins and coffee) and I was ready to get into the city ! 


That day we first visited the Hollywood area.  When driving from El Segundo towards Hollywood, we made some sightseeing trip through Beverly Hills.  We didn’t meet any of the stars or other famous people, we only saw beautiful cars in the streets and encountered police and security officers, always telling us not to park when we were slowing down.  The houses were all fenced and had gardens surrounding them.  After a while we arrived in the Hollywood boulevard.  I had seen this boulevard numerous times on TV, and finally I was standing there and walked on the so famous pavement.   Next, to the Chinese theatre, to admire the foot-and-other-prints of the famous.  It was like all the TV series coming true all at once, but this was real, and at the same time this seemed just like an ‘ordinary boulevard’ … a bit of a strange feeling came over me.  A feeling that would come back many times during my trip through the USA.

Hollywood boulevard Chinese Theatre


Next, we were driving into the hills of hollywood, stopped several times to see some houses of filmstars (even climbed a fence once), fotographed the Hollywood sign,… to arrive finally on the parking lot of Universal Studios, where the view of LA was great : finally high-rise buildings in all their glory !

Half a day visit to Universal Studios… was like all the movies coming true.  After having met Jaws & Frankenstein, after having been in an earthquake and in a fire and almost in space, it was time to return to reality.

We went on for the following days drving on the Pacific Highway, passing in Santa Monica & Santa Barbara (made a little “Bay watch” beach stop) and went on towards Big Sur, with wonderfull vistas all the way.  It was also the first time I had seen the Pacific ocean, and of course I couldn’t resist at some point to hike down from the road and feel if the water was any different than anywhere else in the world.

Pacific Coast, Big Sur

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Climbing the Lion’s Head

CAPE TOWN, OCTOBER 2000 - Table Mountain dominates the city of Cape Town.  Every day – when the weather allows it – people go up the mountain by cable car or hike to the top.  The sights on top of this mountain are really spectacular – one can see the city, Robben Island, the ocean,… and a lot of other mountain peaks nearby.  One of the lower peaks one can determine is ‘Lion’s Head’.  This is the one I climbed in an attempt to see table mountain in a different way.
The Lion's Head

Climbing this peak is not technically difficult, but the path is not what one would call ‘easy’.  One has to walk mainly on a small path between the rocks – their are a couple of small ladders and even some chains (but you can avoid these last mentioned by taking a slightly larger route).
After an hour and a half walking, you reach the top and can enioy the beauty and silence of Table Mountain, The Twelve Apostles, Devils’ Peak, Chapmans bay, etc… We sat their for about an hour enjoying the views.  We saw the ‘crowds’ going up Table Mounting by cable car, the traffic down in the city – we were high above all this – untouchable in a sense.  Down there, lived also the people struggling for their daily survival, homeless people sitting next to the road at night as we had seen the night before, but also the ‘South-African jetset’, the business people who had made it in this western style city.
The Twelve Apostles
Time to get down again, back into the crowd, into ‘real life’.  Going down, we could see the clouds coming in from the ocean, trying to crawl up onto Table Mountain, in a desperate attempt to form the so-called ‘Table cloth’.  At one moment we saw the rock before us disappear into the mist of the coming clouds.  Five minutes ago their was no cloud, now we were in the mist – just to remind us how quickly things can change.


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